Professional Soapbox

Monday, February 06, 2012

For a large part of my professional career, I have worked with families in poverty.

Yes, I was a child care provider in some high end child care centers.  I cared for children who would most likely never worry about hunger or heat or warm clothes. They were the children of the upper middle class.

However, I was also the Director of the Somersworth Early Learning Center. This facility was built with Community Block Grant funds,and was affiliated with the Housing Authority. We were situated next to the low income housing development.

Sometimes, when giving tours, potential families would point over to the Development and ask if we had problems with "those people".  After all, we were a very new building, beautifully constructed. We attained NAEYC accreditation. Many staff had teaching degrees.  Our reputation in the community was solid.

The first time someone asked me about "those people", I was taken aback. Who?

The life in a good child care center is intimate. You know families. You see them as parents, people, humans. They struggle, they share, they  allow themselves to be imperfect and vulnerable. 

As this center received USDA food commodities and was a contract agency with the State of NH for the CCDF scholarship program, we maintained financial and personal information on all families. We housed court orders and custody decrees. We worked with children who were being raised by grandparents and those who were in foster or protective custody. We talked with Moms, Dads, Aunts, Grandparents, Case workers, Guardian Ad Litem's  and Therapists.

But that stuff? That was adult stuff. In the classroom, there were only children. They did not know or care where the other children lived. They played, they grew, they fought, the giggled and stomped in mud puddles. There was no differentiation in the care and love that any of them received.

So when I would get that question, I would pause and ask for clarification. To where exactly were they referring? If they had the cojones to persist, I would smile and gesture to the classroom.

"There are several children in this room who live in the Housing Development", I would say......and smile.  The person would look around, as if the poor children would be wearing a Scarlet "P" to distinguish them from the other One Year Olds.

Those families almost never came back.

My job - among many during that time -  was to make sure that quality education and care was available to ALL children. Being poor did not mean that you got the crappy run down facility and the least trained teachers. Being poor did not mean you lived in a basement with 12 other children under florescent lighting with no educational curriculum.

However, that is the exception rather than the rule. Look around at your local child care centers which serve low income families.  Would you send your child there? Why or why not? If you answer No, I challenge you to ask yourself if those children deserve less because they are born into families who, due to income or circumstance or what have you, are poor.

 In many communities I would argue that there is a definitive segregation of low income children into the worst, and least expensive programs.

Consider it. We are tracking children as young as 6 weeks of age into the "haves" and "have nots". 

I was happy that Emily lived and loved and grew with children from all sorts of families for the first four years of her life. I fought for the quality of the care and education, not only for her, but for all the children that attended the child care. Later, I would do that at the State level, as part of the Child Development Bureau.

Every child deserves deserves the highest quality child care. No exceptions.

August 2, 2007 Gimlet Eye

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